Winemaker Bill Cates
Send In the Clones
So what’s the deal with clones and Pinot Noir? I often hear this question from visitors to the winery who say clones are never mentioned with regard to other grape varieties. Producers of cabernet sauvignon or merlot or Syrah or chardonnay don’t talk up clones. But get near a pinot producer and he or she will rattle on about clonal variation and the clones of pinot used in their wine.
So here’s the skinny on clones. Pinot Noir vines are more prone to mutation than other major varietals. And why is this? The usual answer is that Pinot is the oldest grape variety producing premium wine. Which begs the question – what does age have to do with it? Well, Pinot hasn’t had sex for a long long time. Maybe a few thousand years. It isn’t propagated by grape seeds but by cuttings from the vine. And over those many years, the world has changed and the vines needed to change in response. Climate changes, pests and disease, solar radiation, air pollution, mineral depletion of the soil and other environmental factors have stressed the vines into a response which has produced well over a 1000 clonal variations of the parent vine. By comparison cabernet sauvignon has (at last count) 19 identified clones.
There are about fifteen clonal varieties that seem suited to California. The clones we have relied on for our Tantara Pinots are: Pommard, Martini, Mount Eden, Calera, Wadenswil (aka, 2A) and the Pisoni clone. Then we go into the prosaically numbered clones. Numbers do not do justice to their superb quality. Dijon clones 115, 667, 777 are becoming the workhorses in Pinot vineyards. Recently we made Pinot from clone 459 and we were dazzled. This wine (from Tondre Vineyard) will be released this spring. Another recent clonal addition for us is clone 114 (from Zotovitch Vineyard). It’s from the 2012 harvest so we are waiting to see whether it will work best for blending or will it be a stand-alone.
Thanks to all this clonal variation we can mix and merge, blend and bless for a complex coalescence of aromas and flavors. Sometimes an individual clone produces such a delightful wine we let it stand alone as with our Old Vine from the Pommard clone with its bright red fruit driven aromas. The Pisoni clone is another that has such sensuous qualities that it, too, can and should stand alone without the admixture of any other clone.
Our Adobe Pinot has been a blend of four clonal varieties – 2A, 115, 667 and 777 providing for inviting complexity while our Corral is made from just the 777 clone giving it a luscious focused richness and depth. When people ask me if I could have only one clone, which would it be? I have to think a moment between the 115 and the 777. Most days I’d go with the 115. Now if it just had a poetic name.
The Versatile Grape
Of all the fruits on this planet none is as versatile or as useful as the grape. No fruit garners as much devotion as the grape. Apples and olives have their adherents and devotees but lets look at the record.
The grape grower can produce things the apple or olive orchardist could only dream of. Think of table grapes, raisins, grape sweeteners, grape seed oil, grape seed extract, resveratrol (the antioxidant from the red grape skins), grape leaves for culinary purposes and the crowning achievement – WINE in all its thousands of expressions from ten thousand documented varieties of the grape.
From the apple orchard we do get a wonderful assortment of apples and then there is apple cider, hard cider and apple butter. Olives, and they are in the fruit family, provide us with olives, olive oil and olive oil soap. Without a doubt that puts the grape in first place followed by the apple then the olive.
As for the farming involved, apple trees are not that easy to grow and maintain. And olive trees are picky about the climate. But grapevines will grow just about anywhere with little or no care. In some places they grow so readily grapevines are listed as noxious weeds. (Weed is a subjective word anyhow but it usually means a native plant that grows aggressively where you don’t want it.) Grapevines can grow in wet climates or dry climates, hot or cool regions. If they get about 1500 hours of sunshine they can ripen fruit. And, they can grow from seeds or cuttings. Without even watering or fertilizing them grapevines can smother trees (including apple and olive trees).
If there’s a god or goddess for apple cider or olive oil he/she doesn’t get much attention. The grape, on the other hand, has Dionysus the Greek god of the grape harvest, ritual madness and ecstasy. The Romans picked up on a good idea and changed the name to Bacchus and extended his range of influence far beyond the harvest.
Why there isn’t a day of recognition, a holiday to honor the glories of the grape, is beyond me. Some things are just taken granted, I suppose. But think about this – if the Vikings had stuck around for four or five hundred years and created maps of the New World rather than let some guy named Amerigo Vespucci steal their thunder this continent might still be called Vineland. The grapevine loves America.